BRUCE BIDES HIS TIME AT MAGIC VALLEY SPEEDWAY TWIN FALLS, Idaho (August 20, 2005) - It was nearly a huge night for Idaho with the Magic Valley Pipe 200 presented by AutoZone in the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Northwest Series at Magic Valley...
BRUCE BIDES HIS TIME AT MAGIC VALLEY SPEEDWAY
TWIN FALLS, Idaho (August 20, 2005) - It was nearly a huge night for Idaho with the Magic Valley Pipe 200 presented by AutoZone in the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Northwest Series at Magic Valley Speedway in Twin Falls, Idaho.
It already was an historic night for racing in Idaho before the event even began. With 200 laps scheduled, it was the longest NASCAR race, in terms of laps, ever held in Idaho. Additionally, it was the Northwest Series' 300th event in its 21 years of action.
To make the night even bigger, the Twin Falls crowd needed an Idaho-based driver to score the victory. Former Magic Valley Speedway track champion and local racing hero Eddy McKean, racing out of nearby Jerome, Idaho, and John Dillon, who hails from the Boise, Idaho area, rode in first and second as the laps were winding down, but it was Wilbur Bruce who eventually crossed the finish line first.
Bruce, from Lakewood, Wash., had not been to victory lane in the Northwest Series since 1998 at the Wenatchee Valley's Super Oval, a season that saw Bruce earn rookie of the year honors. In all fairness, Bruce has not raced a full Northwest Series season since giving him limited opportunities to notch a win.
"That's a long way to go on one set of tires," Bruce said referring to the 200-lap distance. "But everybody was in the same boat. My plan was to stay out of trouble, lay back and be there at the end."
Patience was the strategy preached all day long, but a pass of McKean, who led the race's first 86 circuits, by Travis Bennett on lap 87 seemingly signaled the end of that theory. From that point, the race was on at the cozy 1/3-mile oval in Southern Idaho. Laying back and let it all sort out turned into get to the front and protect your position very quickly and perhaps a little early. The near capacity crowd had no problem with the philosophical change.
"It was a little rough at times," said a joyful Bruce. "This is short track racing, though. Sometimes you need to use a little muscle to get past someone."
"The car started off pretty good and I thought we might be able to do something," said Bruce of his No. 8 Quality Rentals/Six Robblees/Rent 'N Roll Chevrolet. "As the race went on, it stayed pretty consistent for the most part."
The race saw four drivers lead a lap with McKean leading a race-high 128 laps. When Bennett snuck past McKean on the 86th lap while both were dealing with lapped traffic, it marked the first time that the young driver from Ellensburg, Wash. took the point in a Northwest Series event. It was a lead that he would hold for 59 laps before the crafty veteran McKean recaptured the front spot heading into lap 146 in his Magic Valley Pipe/Twin Stop Chevrolet.
Unfortunately for Bennett, his run with the leaders would end shortly after when a cut tire forced him to the pits. That brought former series champion Dillon to McKean's rear deck lid.
Dillon drove his Frontier Equipment Chevy underneath McKean exiting turn two, but McKean was not going to give up the spot for which he had worked very hard all that easily. He attempted to block Dillon's advance, but it was too late and it left the local favorite spinning out of contention. This turn of events was not popular with the pro-McKean crowd, but left Dillon with the lead nonetheless.
By this time, there were less than 20 laps remaining and all the drivers in the lead pack wanted to take their shot at the win. Dillon's lead was short lived as he, too, was unsuccessful in protecting his lead. Bruce would finally have his chance in front beginning on lap 195 under caution setting up a green-white-checkered finish.
Bruce was left to contend with Pete Harding for the remainder of the race in order to collect the trophy. "I just wanted to put some distance between us on the restart and not make any silly mistakes," Bruce said. The 1998 Northwest Series Rookie of the Year was able to successfully complete that task and garner the victory.
Harding, who hails from Surrey, B.C. Canada, was runner-up to Bruce and notched his fourth consecutive podium finish in the No. 39 L.P. Body Shop/Yale Forklift Chevrolet. "My car was very good throughout the night. My crew just keeps giving super cars. They make it easy to drive," he said.
The hardest working driver on the night could well have been Snohomish, Washington's John Bender, who won the last Northwest Series race at Magic Valley in June with a dominating wire-to-wire victory. Early in the event he suffered some cosmetic damage to the right side of his No. 18 OSO Lumber/Natural Concepts Landscaping Chevrolet due to some debris on the track. Race officials instructed Bender to get the damage cleaned up before returning to the race which left him down a lap. That was a mere inconvenience as he was able to earn his lap back on the subsequent restart with his car demonstrating the same power it did in June. Not only did he get back on the lead lap, but also worked his was through the field for a third-place finish.
Brandon Riehl, of Boring, Ore., who was one of NASCAR's hottest drivers early in the season is getting himself collected for the stretch run in the Aero Turbine/Darrell's Economy Muffler Chevrolet. He finished the race in fourth for his third straight top-10 finish.
Finishing in fifth was Ed Watson in his Creekside Retirement Community Chevy. It was the second top five for the Mount Vernon, Wash. driver in his last four starts.
Rounding out the top 10 were: Jeff Bailey, Bruce Quale, Zan Sharp, Garrett Evans and Bennett.
Sharp, out of Wellsville, Utah, was the POWERade "Power Move of the Race" Award winner by starting 20th and finishing eighth in his Sharp Transportation Chevrolet. Kennewick, Washington's Bailey collected the Featherlite "Most Improved Driver of the Race" Award after finishing last in the previous event at Evergreen Speedway and posting a sixth-place finish in this event in the S&P Construction/Craig Racing Engines Chevy. The Lunati "Crew Chief of the Race" Award was won by Bruce's lead man Wally Lochrie.
Two-time defending champion Jeff Jefferson, of Naches, Wash., earned his second Bud Pole Award of the season and the 15th of his series career. He patrolled the 1/3-mile track in 14.298 seconds (83.089 mph). He now ranks fifth all-time in series pole awards. Evans leads the way with 63 career poles.
Jefferson was one of the main storylines of the night. He came into the event with a healthy 86-point advantage on Harding and on a streak of finishing in the top two in nine of his last 10 outings. However, a broken trailing arm bracket sent the LeMay Museum/Morgan Transport Chevrolet into the garage area after 92 laps and relegating the points leader to a 22nd-place finish.
He was able to maintain his lead, but Harding's second-place effort whittled it down to just 13 points. In fact, it tightened up all of the top five as 84 points separate first from fifth.
"We'll bounce back," said Jefferson. "We had some adversity last season and overcame it, so there's no reason doubt it now."
The drivers and teams now gear up for the final two events of the season with a huge Labor Day weekend event at Yakima (Wash.) Speedway next on the docket. This will be another 200-lap main event, but one set of tires probably won't be able to get it done on the larger 1/2-mile track adding a variable to the equation.
The stage is set for another scintillating chase for the title just as it was a season ago when the championship was decided on the last lap of the final event.